RUNAWAY BRIDE Directed by Garry Marshall Screenplay by Sara Parriott, Josann McGibbon, Audrey Wells With Julia Roberts, Richard Gere UA North, De Vargas PG 115 min
Like a pair of former lovers trying to stir up the embers of a dead affair, Richard Gere and Julia Roberts are together again, but the magic that lit the screen in Garry Marshall's surprise 1990 hit "Pretty Woman" is dead, and there's no bringing it back to life.
"Runaway Bride" is a calculated, empty shakedown of audiences yearning for another round of the fairytale charm that made a superstar of Roberts a decade ago. The original notion was to do "Pretty Woman II", but the parties involved couldn't agree on a formula, so they had to settle for a new story. This time Gere's a misogynistic journalist who hears a tale in a bar about a Maryland woman (Roberts) who keeps leaving grooms at the altar. Without checking a single fact he writes an error-riddled, actionable diatribe in his USA Today column, naming names. To the veteran journalist's amazement, this gets him fired. His boss (Rita Wilson), who is also his ex-wife, has to pull his plug, but her husband (Hector Elizondo), who is also his pal, offers to get him a cover story in GQ if he can get the skinny on the runaway bride.
He jumps at the offer -- media superstar though he is, he isn't syndicated, and the USA Today column seems to be his only gig (by the looks of his penthouse, it must pay well.) Down he goes to Maryland, where the townspeople, and even Julia's family , welcome him as if he were Pat Sajak. The only person who shows any resistance to his charm is Roberts herself, but she comes around quicker than you might think.
The screenplay is peppered with comedy cliches, like the coach who talks only in sports terms, and the horny grandma who says things like "I like his tight butt," a line with echoes that Gere might have preferred left alone. Joan Cusack adds some life with her dependable comic flair. But neither Gere nor Roberts get characters written with any reference to reality, and despite his silver hair and lean jaw, and her incandescent smile, there's not much they can do with a relationship so obviously constructed on the page rather than in the heart. This isn't chemistry, it's instant coffee.
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